Inputs: Front – 1/8″ stereo mini jack, Rear – RCA, dual pair, connected in parallel for feedthrough operation
Outputs: Front, 1 ea. 1/4″ and 1/8″ stereo headphone jacks
Status indicator: Tricolor.
Input impedance: 25K ohms.
Output Impedance: <1 ohm.
Frequency Response: DC to >300 kHz
Power Output: 300mW RMS into 32 ohms
Max Voltage gain: 10.5 dB, Higher gain config available on request.
Weight: 2.3 lbs.
I don’t think a thorough discussion of the advantages of a dedicated headphone amp are required for Audiophile Audition readers, but I’ll touch on just a few reminders. The first is probably that many high end components no longer have any headphone jacks at all, and with those that do the sonic quality is usually as much of an afterthought as the quality of the AM reception in high end receivers and tuners. Even entry-level headphones such as the $60 Grados benefit greatly from a fully discrete-circuit dedicated headphone amp such as the Andante.
The Andante is a compact little unit just slightly larger than a portable CD player. It has a good-looking anodized front faceplate and Cardas RCA jacks on the ear. The DC-coupled design is fully discrete and features high-quality parts. The front plate sports both a phone-type stereo input jack plus a 3.5mm small stereo input jack. But what might be confusing is to see next to that another 3.5mm jack labeled Input. The idea is you can feed the Line Out signal from your portable player or iPod to the front of the Andante using the miniplug, or you can feed the Line Out from your preamp or receiver using a stereo RCA cable and plug it into the input jacks on the rear of the Andante. The manufacturer even says that should you lack Line Out connections you can use the Headphone Out from your source unit and it should sound fine, with the high impedance of the Andante lowering the bass cutoff frequency and extending the low end. They also suggest raising the level if your are using a portable player and then using the Andante for the volume control, which may give an improved signal-to-noise ratio.
The Andante is battery-operated, but not on the quick-and-dirty method of some of the very small portable headphone amps. It has in its low-profile case two sealed lead-acid batteries for a hum-free high-current power source which can drive even the most inefficient headphones. You won’t have to worry about replacing the batteries. A wall-wart-type recharger plugs into the port on the rear of the Andante. The LED on the front of the amp has three colors: in normal operation off the batteries it is blue, when the batteries get low and need charging it turns to green, and when you plug in the charger it turns red.
In order to eliminate the sonic artifacts often attributed to cap coupling, the Andante has no additional cap coupling at the input. This also prevents unnecessary phase shift. It is suggested that if the volume on the Andante is turned up high the higher levels of DC could damage some headphones. So if you don’t have the figures for your sources, you should check them first with a voltmeter.
My reference headphone amp is the long-discontinued AKG K 1000 amp and my reference headphones are the more-recently-discontinued AKG K 1000 away-from-the-ears phones. The Andante is a very flexible amp but is not designed for the highly inefficient AKG phones, which require at least seven watts of power! (But it can handle just about any other phones.) Plus I would have use an adapter since the AKGs employ an XLR connection. So I moved to my next-best phones, the Grados.
I compared them plugged into first the AKG amp and then the Andante. I tried a variety of solo and orchestral recordings as well as some binaural recordings. Bear in mind that when the AKG was available it retailed for $1200, so we are comparing the Andante with a much larger, heavier, more complex amp at more than double the price – and that was 15 years ago, by the way.
I had to repeat passages over and over to come up with any major differences in sound between the two amps. Both fed my Grados a wide-range and very transparent signal of the highest sonic quality. The small details in massive orchestral sounds came thru cleanly, and with greater impact than my speakers – keeping in mind of course the odd spatial apartheid of stereo, which was never intended to be heard thru headphones.
Switching to the genuine binaural option on the new Sony Classical SACD of Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations performance processed by Zenph Studios provided a more realistic spatial setting. It actually puts the listener on the piano bench and inside Glenn Gould’s head! [See our review of the disc Here.] After much listening and comparisons I felt I could identify only an extremely subtle difference between the two amps: an impression of somewhat greater solidity in the lower end of the spectrum – a deeper and stronger foundation to the notes being heard. But to a very slight degree which was not even noticeable on many recordings.
I think this wins a solid thumbs up for the Andante amp – especially considering its price, compactness, solid construction and noise-free battery operation. I feel the unit will find many uses in the office, home and portably.
— John Sunier